Starts out strong looking the facts of virginity and our current scientific understanding but falters as it moves into the cultural and religious histStarts out strong looking the facts of virginity and our current scientific understanding but falters as it moves into the cultural and religious history of virginity. ...more
I read this book around the same time I read Sex with Kings. While that work was good and fairly well researched, it just doesn't hold a candle to theI read this book around the same time I read Sex with Kings. While that work was good and fairly well researched, it just doesn't hold a candle to the lovely prose and witty storytelling of this work. This is an amazing history of the ways women have found to trade what for centuries was their most valued asset for money, security and power. This was an extremely enjoyable read and I cannot recommend it highly enough....more
This book started strong but I think the sadness and trapped feeling of the Princesses as time passed and they were still stuck at home sort of leacheThis book started strong but I think the sadness and trapped feeling of the Princesses as time passed and they were still stuck at home sort of leached over into the reading experience. I got about 3/4ths of the way through and just gave up. Fantastic pics though and very interesting exploration of large royal families and the often precarious position of daughters....more
I was unable to finish this one. While Lucrezia is a fascinating subject, this book got bogged down in looks more at the people around her than at theI was unable to finish this one. While Lucrezia is a fascinating subject, this book got bogged down in looks more at the people around her than at the woman herself. ...more
This book is not even remotely what I thought it was going to be and it was a delightful surprise. While it does address "historical mysteries" it wouThis book is not even remotely what I thought it was going to be and it was a delightful surprise. While it does address "historical mysteries" it would be more accurate to say it addresses cases of false identity in the 1800s-1900s. Lost of long lost heirs, tsars posing as monks and Lords posing as shopkeepers.
Each chapter starts with the story as it unfolded at the time and then moves to the expert opinions and the facts of the cases as we know them now. The author does a fantastic job summarizing and in places synthesizing the existing information into a coherent and entertaining whole. Just enough detail for a casual reader and it never falls into the trap of becoming too much like the kind of book you'd only read if you were either VERY interested in the subject or were having to write a research paper on it. I MUST find more of this author's work. It's so rare to find a light and breezy voice in this sort of ambitious, sweeping non-fic work....more
This one caught my eye when it was referenced in a few other books, fiction and nonfiction, I’ve read recently. Georgiana is a very interesting womanThis one caught my eye when it was referenced in a few other books, fiction and nonfiction, I’ve read recently. Georgiana is a very interesting woman – both of her time and, at times, so far ahead of her time. Her personal life was a mess and a half, far beyond the most convoluted soap operas, and she was heavily involved in the politics of her day. I have to admit, I got pretty bored in the heavily political sections as politics isn’t really my thing and I’ve read a lot about this time period in other works. This work included excerpts of her letters and some of her poems and hearing her in her own voice really added a lot to understanding her as a historical figure and as an individual....more
Oh Simon Winchester – Why? Why can't I find another of your books as good as "The Professor and the Madman"? This one was…interesting, but OMG too mucOh Simon Winchester – Why? Why can't I find another of your books as good as "The Professor and the Madman"? This one was…interesting, but OMG too much geology for me. I only made it about ½ in but I am totally taking credit for reading this thing. Also, me thinks I will skip his other book about geologic natural disasters (Krakatoa) because 4 chapters of seismology and explanation about tectonic plates is more than I can bear....more
This was one of the best written history books I've read in forever. Manning includes tons of information and details about the period – from types ofThis was one of the best written history books I've read in forever. Manning includes tons of information and details about the period – from types of condoms available to other hot scandals of the day to popular lit – and she does it in an incredibly easy to read way. Lots of writers would tempted to go into endless digressions – because all that extra info is interesting – but Manning cleverly includes these asides as sidebars to the main text. As for Grace herself, the woman lived in fascinating times, went around with a notorious crowd, and seemed to have an all around incredible life. Well worth the read and it nicely underscores just how boring and pedestrian today's celebrity scandals really are....more
This is a fun book to skim, but enjoyment plummets if you try to read it straight through. Why? Well, because after you read why Florida’s northern boThis is a fun book to skim, but enjoyment plummets if you try to read it straight through. Why? Well, because after you read why Florida’s northern border with Georgia looks like it does, you won’t really want to read the same explanation, framed as why Georgia’s southern border looks like it does. Funny thing about borders, that. Some cool information about major treaties and negotiations that resulted in huge additions to land to the US and some interesting facts about the concept of “equal states” that shaped many of the states west of the Mississippi. But overall – WAY too redundant if you aren’t just reading about a few states here and there....more
Books like this one are why I love listening to nonfiction as audiobooks. I am not a huge Chemistry or Physics nerd, but I found the stories and peoplBooks like this one are why I love listening to nonfiction as audiobooks. I am not a huge Chemistry or Physics nerd, but I found the stories and people in this book fascinating! Organized around the elements of the periodic table, this book is crammed full of interesting ideas and stories presented in delectable little bites. Who doesn’t love a good story of professional rivalry, personal redemption, and fortuitous accidents? I had forgotten half of these elements even existed and while I can’t say the chemical details and specifics will stick with me forever, I know some of the stories will. This book did a great job of presenting difficult material in a straight forward way and provides LOTS of chance to go learn more on your own about any one of the hundred or so stories it contains. This was a delightful read and I am so happy I finally got to it!...more
We started this audiobook on the way home from vacation and it kept me company during unplanned trips home for a family medical situation. Not sure whWe started this audiobook on the way home from vacation and it kept me company during unplanned trips home for a family medical situation. Not sure what I would have done without this pleasant distraction, but hooray for history! This was a balanced and very interesting look at the whole picture of the whys, whos, and hows of Prohibition and its eventual appeal. I had no idea how much of the initial dry and temperance movements were anchored in women’s rights. The early 20th century could be a bleak place for women in a world where there was no enforcement of domestic abuse, marital rape, or child abuse and where women could not get a divorce, own property or have their own bank account. While there were many who drank moderately and remained in control, there were some in the big cities that literally drank away their pay, letting their families become homeless and turning their homes into scenes of drunken violence on a weekly basis. From this perspective, I can understand how so many women saw a world without alcohol as a world when women and children would be safer.
The book introduces a number of figures I’d never heard of – from Wayne Wheeler to Mabel Walker Willabrant (sp?) and some colorful characters who happily turned to bootlegging and a number of quasi-legal pursuits. The author did a good job of fairly representing both points of view, while managing a fun tongue-in-cheek tone such as when he points out that the amazing expansion of Walgreen’s drugstore from 25 stores in the early 20s to 525 locations by the end of the decade may have had more to do with their medicinal liquor business than the introduction of the milkshake (the official explanation). History can get dry or repetitive but this one had good pacing and lots of interesting little asides and personal stories. Great “read” and I learned a TON!...more
This was a tough book for me to rate/review as it is one of the few books I didn’t finish this year. The subject matter is so important and part of AmThis was a tough book for me to rate/review as it is one of the few books I didn’t finish this year. The subject matter is so important and part of American/First World history that is rarely taught, but I found the prose very dry and hard to get through. We get pretty complete bios of a number of the key thinkers and writers working with eugenics, but sometimes that was very confusing at the men sort of got mixed up in my mind and a lot of them worked together at various points. I was also a little disappointed that the history of various forced sterilization laws are presented but I didn’t get any sense about when ideas about reproductive rights began being discussed. I read a lot of history but I still found it difficult sometimes to fully understand the time period and context in which these ideas were being discussed as rational and needed. So, very mixed bag and I sort of gave up a chapter into the period where the Nazis were expanding US laws about race preservation. It’s got to be a tough read if even Nazis do nothing to get the text moving again....more
This was an amazing book. I came into it knowing in a general sense that post-Civil War, lots of newly freed blacks moved out of the South to seek theThis was an amazing book. I came into it knowing in a general sense that post-Civil War, lots of newly freed blacks moved out of the South to seek their fortunes elsewhere but I knew almost nothing of where they went or the challenges they faced. In framing this slow diffusion of population into other areas as migration, Wilkerson casts a net wide enough to identify some of the ongoing themes and characteristics of thousands of individual choices. The book follows three main individuals – a woman leaving sharecropping for Chicago in the 1930’s, a young man fleeing citrus picking in central Florida for Harlem in the 1940’s and a doctor who moved up in the social rankings of blacks in centers like Atlanta and ultimately makes the leap to California.
I really appreciated Wilkerson’s skill in balancing explaining the larger historical context of the personal narratives, but also allowing the stories and experiences of these individuals to shine through. For me, some of the most moving or resonant elements were the way the individuals talked about the ordinary, everydayness of the oppressive restrictions and harassment endemic to the South following the war. The detail and richness of their experience had me invested in their lives, mourning their losses and set backs and hoping for better opportunities and prosperity for their families.
I am drawn to stories about hard choices and personal courage and this book was full of amazing individuals leaving the only world they and their families had known for generations with the hope of better things to come. The larger questions of what it means to be free and empowered and the lingering impact of such institutionalized oppression and injustice are ones I’m still thinking about. For me, this book helped fill in an important section of American history that has much to teach us about how who we were as a society is still shaping who we are now and the kinds of futures we even imagine as we ponder who we can be....more
As a fan of "Finding Your Roots" and similar shows, I thought this book would be right in my wheelhouse. It had some very interesting moments, but oveAs a fan of "Finding Your Roots" and similar shows, I thought this book would be right in my wheelhouse. It had some very interesting moments, but overall I found the pacing slow. The chapters rotated between the three families and unfortunately some of the families are much more interesting than others. Also, I burn out on military history very quickly and this book covered a lot of Civil War ground, which perhaps I should have been expecting more.
I found the details about the larger social attitudes, laws, and daily life the most interesting. While I understood that racial lines are rather arbitrary, I never realized the extent to which the lines were mutable and could be crossed. I found the story of the Spencers, landowners in Appalachian Kentucky to be most interesting. I had a friend who came from "mountain folk" and she commented how rarely anything came up about her being black so much as how many generations back her family had been on the mountain. In the community all around the Spencers, there are a number of folks considered "dark white", many claiming Native American, Spanish, or Portuguese blood. Perhaps this was true in some cases, but it didn't matter much in terms of their involvement in the community.
In the end, I just couldn't make it more than 80% through this one. I simply stopped caring....more